The Lion Game by James H. Schmitz
DAW Books, 1973
Price I paid: 90¢
was just a college girl―but she was one of the most valuable assets that the human-colonized worlds had. Because, besides her sharp mind and warm personality, she possessed a most unusual mutant accumulation of talents.
So when she found herself being hounded by a psi-powered killer, she was not too worried. But when that incident turned out to be merely the opening gambit in a game of mental chess with a planet of beast-masters who were challenging humanity for the grand-mastery of the universal board, Telzey was put to her full capacity.
Because she was never sure whether she was just someone else’s mind-pawn or really the queen on the human side of…
THE LION GAME
Wowza, it’s been a good long while since I’ve checked in on old Telzey Amberdon. I last read of her adventures on Star Wars Day 2014, and I’m not sure I have an excuse for not reading this sequel for so long. Other than the fact that I disliked The Universe Against Her so much, you understand.
Well, there’s that, but there’s also the fact that the cover of my copy of The Lion Game was damaged when I took the price sticker off. I’ve actually had that book longer than I’ve had The Universe Against Her, when I bought it before realizing it was a sequel. Luckily, my roommate was at the local used-book store and found this DAW copy with a much better cover anyway, and all my excuses flew out the window.
That’s a Freas cover, in case you didn’t recognize it on first glance, and golly, Telzey’s lookin’ pretty good. She literally has a tit out. This is actually pretty creepy, but also indicative of what bothers me so much about these books.
See, in The Universe Against Her, Telzey’s looks were frequently commented upon. The problem is that she’s fifteen. No bueno.
I get this copy of The Lion Game and the back says that she’s a college student now, so I figure that she’s gone from a sexy high school freshman (*shudder*) to a sexy co-ed. Okay, still problematic, but at least there’s less pedophilia.
I start into the book and it turns out that yes, Telzey is now a college student…and she’s still fifteen.
NO NO NO
FRANK KELLY FREAS YOU DREW CHILD PORNOGRAPHY FOR THIS COVER ART
If you haven’t read my review of The Universe Against Her and just don’t feel like backtracking, I’ll give a quick little recap. Telzey Amberdon is a psychic and she’s an amoral monster. In the first book, she uses her psi powers to first modify her aunt’s personality to be more agreeable, and then plant false evidence into a dog’s brain so a criminal can be caught. Yes, the aunt was pretty mean and the criminal was guilty, but that doesn’t make it ethical in either case. I was horrified.
So how do things progress in The Lion Game? Is it still a morality tale about how beautiful people can get away with horrifying acts?
Well, yeah, but maybe a little less so?
Schmitz has fewer really problematic moments in the sequel, and Telzey does seem to have progressed a little bit. She offhand comments that she doesn’t read her friends’ minds without their knowledge, for instance. That’s progress!
She’s still a super-duper Mary Sue, being that she’s a college student at fifteen and she’s hanging around with a bunch of eighteen- to twenty-year-olds who all think she hung the moon. Some of her male acquaintances are referred to has her “fan club,” which is a nice way of saying pedophiles.
Telzey starts off this book on a camping trip with her friends. Things go wacky pretty quickly when she receives a psychic message from somebody in the forest. None of her friends know that Telzey has psi powers, so it’s probably not any of them. She investigates and the other psychic says that he’s living alone in a cabin somewhere in the woods and would she please come visit him.
And of course she agrees.
Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ on a pogo stick!
It turns out that the guy is crazy and has been mentally using a big animal called a spook to hunt and kill people. Telzey gets caught in his psychic web and has to do his bidding for a little bit before she can break free, at which point he sets the spook on her. I never got a clear mental picture of what the thing was supposed to look like―in fact I never once got a clear mental picture of what anything in this book was supposed to look like―so I just pictured it as a deathclaw from Fallout.
How does Telzey escape this horrible predicament? Well, it mostly boils down to the fact that her friends come looking for her and they bring a big dog (I think it’s the same big dog from the first book) and it fights the monster and kills it and they all get away.
Telzey does psychically assault the guy who set the spook after her, leaving him half brain-dead, so that’s nice. She just up and leaves him to die, I guess. I’m not mad about that. It’s probably what I would do.
Three weeks later she decides to go investigate the guy again. She heads toward his house in the woods, whereupon it explodes in a gigantic, um, explosion. She’s then set upon by yet another monster, which was not a spook again but I still imagined it looking like a deathclaw. This new monster can teleport. It’s also psychically sensitive, so as soon as Telzey opens up any of her “mind shields” it immediately teleports to her.
Telzey gets a lot of credit for defeating the thing. She runs around the forest, occasionally exposing her mind to the thing so that it teleports. She eventually causes it to teleport into a rock, killing it. It’s good to see that Telzey can solve problems without mind-violating someone.
While all of this is going on, she picks up some psychic vibrations from a non-but-near-human entity that she doesn’t recognize. She figures that they’re behind this whole situation from the start. This sets her up for the adventure that takes up the entire rest of the book.
She sends a report to her superiors at the Psychology Corps, who then contact her and say that they’re sending her on a mission.
Again, she’s fifteen.
This means that she has to cancel some of her college classes, which she can just do because she’s beloved by all, I guess. Maybe in the future she can take college courses at her leisure. That’s a nice dream.
She winds up on a planet called Tinokti. It’s a science world. Some people got murdered there and evidence suggests that it was a monster similar to the teleporting one that attacked Telzey earlier in the book, which is why, I guess, they send her there even though she’s barely got any training and she’s FIFTEEN.
I get that Telzey’s supposed to be special but mercy sakes alive I can’t accept that she’s so special that adults just throw her into danger like this. The Psychology Corps makes Hogwarts look like a responsible childcare institution.
Telzey wanders around for a little bit and then gets captured by some things that have proper names, as does everything else for the latter half of the book, and I had a lot of trouble keeping all of those proper names straight because none of them really stood out in a way that captured my attention at all.
I didn’t even have something from pop culture to attach to these numerous things, so I guess they all look like deathclaws again.
Okay I went back and flipped through the book and I think I’ve got a few things straight.
The bad guys are called the Elaigar. They’re run by someone named Stiltik. Young Elaigar are called Otessans until they mature into Sattarams. There is a subgroup called the Alatta who don’t undergo the transformation into Sattarams, and they are disliked by the rest of the species.
This story is mainly told in the form of exposition dumps, something it shares with its predecessor book.
The Elaigar are psychics and I guess they’re the ones playing the titular Lion Game, which is never really described beyond some dialogue that’s essentially
“What’s the Lion Game?”
“It’s what you’re doing right now!”
I guess the Elaigar want to take over something or something. I never quite got their motivations. If I were feeling generous, I’d say that the book did a good job of making it so that alien beings had such different motivations from humans that it was hard to understand. But no, I’m not going to give the book that much credit.
There’s a lot that goes on here but hardly any of it had any weight to the story, let’s just trim it down to the essentials:
- Telzey gets captured.
- She uses her psychic powers in various ways to escape.
- She meets some guy.
- Guy turns out to be a traitor.
- She meets one of those Alatta people.
- There’s some kind of a big battle in a canyon?
- Telzey’s side wins and everybody gets to go home.
A note on how Telzey’s side wins. She’s working with this Alatta person, whose name turns out to be Kolki Ming. There’s a monster or a Sattaram or something trying to kill them. Telzey saves the day by, um, being there and distracting whatever it is so that Kolki Ming can kill it.
It turns out there’s a little more to it than that, though, and to be fair, I thought it was pretty good even though I’m not exactly sure why it had to happen. I guess Kolki Ming was going to betray Telzey or something? Either way, Telzey used the murder opportunity (murdertunity) to mind-violate Kolki Ming (because that’s what she’s good at!) and escape and end the novel.
I’m not sure what happened in most of this book. What I am sure of is that none of it made me care. I know there’s no way I can prove to you that I actually read the thing, but I did, and none of it stuck in my memory. I just couldn’t bring myself to be concerned about anything that was going on. Were there supposed to be stakes? What would happen if Telzey failed? Why does any of this matter?
I guess the whole point of the story is that we get to see a plucky young lady escape from certain doom using only her wits and extremely potent psychic powers and lack of conscience, so I guess I’m not the target audience.
The book did have its upsides. The author did a solid job of making Telzey’s powers feel like an actual thing. He described their use in an almost tactile way that sadly didn’t extend to anything else in the book. I got a good feel for what Telzey could and couldn’t do with her powers and how she visualized using them. All of that was remarkably consistent. Big props.
That’s pretty much the only thing I have to praise. Yes, this book was better than The Universe Against Her, but that’s not saying much. It was still a series of loosely-bound adventures that didn’t really mean much to me. Again, this might be because I’m not the right reader, so I’m not going to say outright that this was a bad book. Maybe the problem is with me.
4 thoughts on “The Lion Game”
Me too. Schmitz was one of those authors whose work I could never get on with, so eventually I just gave up. Not sure I ever came across the adventures of Telzey Amberdon. My guess is that the target readership was actually younger than she was.
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He’s one of these authors I’ve still not read — some readers are pleased that he had predominately women main characters considering the era. But if they’re constantly sexualized etc then it’s not like it’s a positive portrayal…
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Years ago I read his The Demon Breed and found it so-so – conventional space opera-type stuff, done competently.
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A pretty good book. I have copies of the Analog’s it was serialized in.
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